The Power of One

There’s no substitution for an arsenal of well selected mics. However, sometimes budget and neccessity means that we must try to get good results from limited resources. In this post I aim to show you how you can complete any task in the studio with only one microphone.
Mic placement attributes to 70% of the sound you get, so the key to a great recording is to know how important mic placement is and spend time getting it right.

The best technique to use to find the sound you’re after is to enlist the help of a friend to play the instrument whilst you place the mic, all the while monitoring the sound through headphones. Simply move the mic around until you hear the sound you’re after.

*Before recording any input, set the levels so that they are just slipping into the orange on your input meters at the loudest parts of the song. If your interface does not have meters (some just have clip lights), use the meters in your DAW mixer.

On/Off Axis
Recording on-axis (pointing directly at the source) will give you a bigger, fuller sound, whereas moving the mic off-axis will thin out the sound.



Acoustic guitar
Placing a mic on an acoustic guitar depends on what kind of sound you want from it. For example, a thinner sound with more high-frequency presence (i.e. to cut through a busy mix) can be obtained by aiming a mic between 12th fret and where the neck meets the body. As you move towards the sound hole, you’ll notice the sound getting richer and lower frequencies creeping back in. Use this positioning for a richer, fuller sound when the guitar needs to be a more prominent feature in the track. It is recommended that you use off-axis mic positioning when miking over the sound hole to avoid feedback. For acoustic instruments, the standard distance for the microphone is around 30-40cm. A larger distance will capture more of the room sound and will add a warmer, less focused quality to the sound.
*A little tip to help you out: The bottom of the guitar body is where the bass comes from, the middle of the guitar body (sound hole area) is where the mid frequencies come from, and the top of the guitar body (where it meets the neck) is where the higher frequencies come from.

Guitar/Bass Speaker Cabinet
There aren’t many placements commonly used in speaker cab miking. On-axis and off-axis miking of a speaker produces the same results as discussed above. On-axis will produce a bigger, fuller sound. Off-axis will produce a thinner sound with a slightly less pronounced low-end. Moving the microphone between the centre of the dome to the edge of the cone will also change the sound, so again, moving the microphone whilst monitoring through headphones will help you to achieve the sound you’re after.
As the speaker cab isn’t likely to move around during the recording (hopefully), you can place the mic very close to the grill – but not touching the grill. Once again, moving the microphone further away from the speaker will capture more of the room sound and warm it up a little (ultimately by capturing more of the low frequencies produced by the room itself). A room mic will also pick up reflections which will provide natural reverb. However, some rooms are not nice sounding rooms (now we’re getting into acoustics) and will make the recording sound boxy and amateurish.

Drums
I know what you’re thinking, but it is possible. Placing a microphone away from the kit will give you a big drum sound, but it will also take in a lot of the room sound. The problem here is that if your room isn’t a nice, fairly large, well treated room, it’s going to sound boomy and awful. So, the only other option is to get right in close. By placing a microphone between the snare and ride cymbal, pointing across the snare top, you’ll get a fair balance of every element of the drums without the boomy room sound. Again, you’ll have to experiment and see which position works best, but the diagram below will get you pretty close:

With this technique, even though the floor tom and ride cymbal are pointing at the back of the microphone, they are close enough to be picked up as well as everything else.
You can also get good results by using a single mic a few feet above the kit pointing down as a single overhead. You’ll get a less focused sound with less low end this way, but it can work. To get a good balance, tape one end of a piece of string to the centre of the bass drum skin (where the beater hits), and the other end to the centre of the snare drum. pull the middle of the string up, and find a point where the string is the same length going to the snare drum as it is going to the bass drum. Place the mic around 4 feet above the kit in this position.

Vocals
Well there’s nothing revolutionary here. Vocals are usually recorded with one microphone. However, I thought I’d just touch up on the basics. First of all, the microphone needs to be positioned about 6 inches away from the singer. An easy way to measure is to spread your hand out flat, place the tip of your thumb to your lips, and the tip of your little finger to the microphone. A pop filter should always be used when recording vocals, and this should be a couple of inches in front of the microphone.
If your room is not acoustically treated, you should seriously consider purchasing a reflection filter. This will stop sound reflections from nearby walls spilling back into the mic and causing a nasty, echoey, amateurish sound. You can get similar results by using duvet covers or similar.
Here’s a good budget reflection filter that comes complete with a mic stand:
SM Pro Mic Thing Portable Microphone Isolator

Mic choices
Ok, so we’ve discovered how much can be done with only one microphone, but choosing that one microphone is still an important aspect. In my experience, the only type of microphone that can cover lots of applications well is a large diaphragm condenser microphone. I have listed a few below in 3 different price points that you should consider:

Low price point
AKG Perception 120

Medium price point
RODE NT1-a

High price point
RODE K2

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